Remembrance of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Wait. That’s Not Right, Is It?

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Tyler Cowen has some reading advice for the digital age:

Everyone should have a long book on their Kindle that they otherwise would never read. Then, when you don’t feel like starting a whole new book on your Kindle, you dig into a small piece of your long book. And stop. As the years pass, you may eventually finish your long book (or not).

After three years, he’s about 18 percent finished with John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which I assume has the virtue of being free in e-book form.

In any case, this sounds like good advice except for one thing: what if you have a bad memory? I have trouble remembering the first part of a book by the time I’m reading the last chapter, and that’s for books that I finish in a week. If I took years to read a book, it would be like reading random chapters completely divorced from the main narrative.

But maybe that’s a whole new way of reading? If I had to choose a long book, it would be something like Remembrance of Things Past (or whatever they call it these days, ever since they decided the old translation of the title was no good). Perhaps reading it in the normal sequence, but with each chapter completely divorced from its narrative context, would provide a whole new take on Proust? I could think of it as Forgetfulness of Things Past. But what if I cheated and reread the Cliff Notes summaries before each chapter to refresh my memory of what was going on? This is all trickier than it sounds.

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